ARCHITECT CHARLES MOORE
A house should have eyes and ears and arms and a heart, and it should talk to you when you're in it. It should say simple things, naturally - like, ''You're home,'' ''Sit down and read here,'' or ''Gather over here.'' But it should also tell a cheerful joke now and then, and be erudite enough to quote the classics.Skip to next paragraph
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This is the ambitious notion of Charles Moore, a leading postmodernist architect, and this is the kind of house he has been trying to build for more than 20 years - not sleek modern planes with cold shoulders, but houses that speak to their inhabitants about who they are, where they are, and what their dreams are. He wants buildings to engage people.
With the field of architecture at a dynamic but fumbling stage, groping its way into a new era, Dr. Moore best represents one key thrust among postmodernists: The importance of a building's design lies in what it means to the people who inhabit it, and it should give them a fresh sense of place and tradition made new.
Charles Moore at work is a child at play (''The aspects of play are fascinating, and I still haven't figured out all the rules or the boundaries''), and his playground is the memory, his own memory and the shared memories of history. His work draws liberally from images of Italian hill towns, California bungalows, New England cottages, Colorado mining sheds, and even Disneyland.
He is a ragman among architects, collecting bits of architecture - neon lights from the modern commercial strip, Doric columns from the classical past - and sewing them together for new life.
If he was once a lone voice in the icy, steel-and-glass wilderness of highbrow architecture, now he is caught up in a whirlpool of a movement stirring and unsettling his entire field.
Dr. Moore is a gentle, diffident man who wears the corduroy jacket and madras tie of a New England academic. Once dean of architecture at Yale, and later at the University of California at Berkeley, he is now a professor at UCLA and engaged in three architectural practices - Urban Innovations Group and Moore Ruble Yudell in Los Angeles, and Moore Grover Harper in Essex, Conn.
In the mid-1970s, when architects were thriving, Moore nearly faced bankruptcy. Now, when a rising number of architects are on the verge of bankruptcy, Moore is so busy that he recently had to drop his studio teaching altogether.
His reasons for doing what he does differ from many other architects of his caliber.
His driving interest is in the people who will use his buildings - live in them, work in them, walk by them on the street - and how the building will make them feel.
''I'd like to turn around this whole Mies van der Rohe thing,'' he says in his car after a UCLA lecture. ''I don't vahnt to be interesting, I vahnt to be good,'' he says, mimicking the great German modernist. ''I want to be good, and I'm also very interested in being interesting.''
Moore has not become a household name in the past 20 years, although Richard Harris, dean of the architecture school at the University of Southern California , places him at the head of a major architectural trend toward people-centered buildings and a ''delightful connection with the past.''
''Moore has never played the conventional game that one gets famous by,'' says William Hubbard, a New York-based architect and architectural theorist. Rather than build the big buildings in big cities that draw attention, Moore has built mostly houses. As a result, Moore's legacy may well be his ideas more than any given building, his houses serving more as teaching tools than milestones, Mr. Hubbard says.
However, the scale of the latest Moore commission, the Beverly Hills Civic Center, could change that. ''Once people experience three blocks of Moore, rather than 110 feet of Moore, that will be a revelation,'' Hubbard surmises.
In the new civic center, he adds, Moore may have resolved some of the flaws critics found in his most controversial work to date, the Piazza d'Italia fountain in New Orleans. Designed with the local Italian community in mind, this outdoor gathering place is bright and stagy, with colored neon lights outlining classical Roman facades enlivened with chrome and hundreds of tiny water jets. It has become a favorite illustration for books and articles on postmodern-ism, pro or con.
This playful work has brought in letters, Moore says, that blame him for everything from ''the Shah of Iran to the fall of the Shah of Iran.''
''It's just a fountain with water splashing around,'' he shrugs, defending the fun of seeing familiar architecture done in jets of water.